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Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the…

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

by Erik Larson

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World War I. The dumb ass war. A Serbian man shoots Archduke Ferdinand the heir to the Austria Hungarian Empire. They catch the guy and execute him, but that doesn't stop Austria Hungary from declaring war on Serbia all on the basis of the actions of one man. Then Germany, a friend of Austria Hungry, thought this would be a great time to invade Belguim just because maybe not realizing that France and England would not stand for it. I once saw a political cartoon that showed a bar scene that showed pictures of men fighting with tags of things they were saying such as you can't hit Belguim. The men had names of countries on their shirts. Underneath it said World War I. It was pretty accurate because that war was a big barroom brawl. Sadly this barroom brawl resulted in the death of somewhere between nine and fifteen million with six and a half million noncombatant deaths. On top of that in France, there was an area of 460 square miles that was marked off as unhabitable and off limits known as the Red Zone. The land had arsenic in it and there were unexploded shells including gas shells. There were dead bodies still left on the fields. Over the decades they have been able to shrink that area a bit but people still find unexploded shells on the land that has been cleared. Germany was forced to pay $33 billion in restitution to the countries involved that they finally paid off in 2010. You hear about things like that and some of the other things that they did that I will mention in this review and you can't help but agree with it even though it will be these restrictions that will be a part of what causes World War II.

The Lusitania with its 189 Americans, 949 British, 71 Russians, 15 Persians, 8 French, 6 Greek, 6 Swedes, 3 Belgians, 3 Dutch, 2 Italians, 2 Mexicans, 2 Finns, and 1 traveler each from Denmark, Spain, Arengintia, Switzerland, Norway, and India passengers was a top of the line cruise ship of the Cunard company. It was the fastest cruise ship with the ability to go 25 knots. Its captain, William Thomas Turner, was a very experienced captain who had been through most everything on the seas. He was an excellent navigator, though he was not one to want to chit chat with the passengers, which is why Cunard hired a staff captain, James "Jock" Anderson to interact with the passengers and eat dinner with them. One of the problems was that Cunard refused to hire anyone that was not British and with the war, it was difficult to find qualified sailors so most of their staff had little or no experience on a ship. While in dock they came across Gertie Morton who was escaping his indenture to another ship and bought a ticket on the Lusitania along with his brother Cliff who was also escaping his indenture. When crew members of the Lusitania find out they offer them jobs aboard the ship for free fare. The brothers tell them that there are others on their ship who would be interested in this and the Lusitania picks up eight qualified sailors.

Room 40 is a secret room in the Old Building known to the Admiralty as O.B. The secret room was known to precious few outside of those who worked inside of it. First Lord Churchill who was in charge of the Navy and First Sea Lord Fisher who was second in command and in charge of day to day operations. This room supposedly reported to Admiral Oliver the Admiralty's chief of staff, but in reality, they reported to Commander Hope who was put there by the chief of naval intelligence Captain Hall and to Churchill himself, bypassing Fisher. They had gotten hold of a copy of a German codebook and were busy deciphering coded messages. The problem was they weren't necessarily using the information. They would use it for defense measures but not for offensive measures. They had to keep the fact that they had the code a secret or the code would change so they couldn't respond to everything they heard about.

At first, during the war, both sides saw no use for submarines. Until one fateful day when a U-boat targeted the ship Aboukir and torpedoed it and it quickly sank. The Hogue was right there by it and went in to rescue survivors and also got torpedoed. Then the Cressy also tried to rescue survivors and it also got torpedoed and sank. After that, the Navy made it a policy that a ship must not ever come to the aid of a torpedoed ship lest it gets sunk. They would send smaller lesser vessels in later to rescue survivors.

U-20 left Germany with a directive to go to Liverpool to sink ships there. A submarine ship can stay underwater for 80 nautical miles and only go maybe 9 knots and it would run on a battery. While above water it would run on diesel and could run up to 15 knots and go a total of 5,200 nautical miles. They had 250 shells and seven torpedoes two of which they were supposed to hold back for the return journey. Kplt. Walther Schwieger was in charge of the submarine and reported to no one, unlike a ship who reported back to his superiors for instructions. By all accounts, he was a good captain. He treated his men well and was very good to them. However, he targeted a hospital ship and a Dutch neutral ship leaving England that would have not been carrying munitions or anything for England so there would have been no reason to target it. He missed both ships. That was another thing, torpedoes missed 60% of the time.

President Wilson buried his wife on August 11, 1914. He thought he'd never recover from the loss. He went into a deep depression. Then in the spring, he meets Edith Gault and he is enchanted. Edith is the first woman to receive a driver's license in Washington D.C. She is also a widow and while she enjoys her time with the president she turns down his eventual proposal because she feels she doesn't know him well enough and because of his position. She's not sure she wants to marry a president. Wilson is miserable again. What Wilson isn't doing is concentrating too hard on the politics of the world around him. The Gulflight, an American merchant ship was sunk by the Germans killing three and causing the captain to have a heart attack and die. He has yet to come out and say anything about it.

The Lusitania was forced to take on passengers from the ship Cameronia because that ship was put into service for the war. The passengers thought they were lucky to be on the luxury liner that travels so fast. This delay of boarding the passengers and a delay of getting the Captain's niece off of the ship would cost the Lusitania time and they would be off schedule leaving port.

Charles Lauriat, husband and father of four, from Boston owned one of the most famous bookstores that also published books under the name Estes and Lauriat. He was planning to set out to London for a buying trip. Also, he planned on visiting the granddaughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair, with whom he had bought the illustrations of his work for a steal. He wanted her to provide notes to go with them and he wanted to have them taken out of the scrapbook they were in and properly mounted. He also borrowed a friend's copy of Charles Dicken's own personal copy of A Christmas Carol with notations in the margins from a court case Dicken's was involved in about it. Someone in England wanted to look it over and he offered to have him look at it.

Theodate Pope, a forty-eight-year-old feminist from Connecticut was the first woman from that state to receive an architect's license. She was also a Socialist who counted among her friends Mary Cassatt, William, and Henry James. She was also interested in "psychical" research which was why she was traveling to London with her friend Edwin Friend. She suffered from bouts of depression and once sought out a cure from Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell who argued that one should not move from bed at all and that women should not work as it exhausted them and caused nervous complaints. Charlotte Perkins Gillman wrote critically of him in her short story "The Yellow Wall-Paper". Theodate realized that work made her less depressed and quit Dr. Mitchell's care and went back to her architecture, but depression would haunt her and while on the ship she was particularly depressed.

Also aboard were the theater great, Charles Frohman, who had made Ethel Barrymore and brought Peter Pan to America dressing Maude Adams in the classic costume forever creating how we see Peter Pan, and also produced the stage show Sherlock Holmes that created the image we have of him. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I, son of Cornelius who was a part of the "Just Missed It" club a group of fortunates who had tickets for the Titanic but didn't sail on it. He was on his second marriage and was a bit of a rake.

It's no secret that the U-20 sinks the Lusitania. But how it happens as one torpedo would never sink a ship of that size is a tale of its own. What did Room 40 know and what did they do to prevent it if anything? Did Churchill want something to happen so America would enter the war? Was Captain Turner at fault? Who survives and who doesn't. Besides the precious cargo Lauriat was carrying there was also artwork by Monet, Rubens, Titian, and Rembrandt aboard. Did any of it survive? Of the 1,959 passengers and crew, only 764 survived. 1,195 died. 791 remained missing bodies. of the 33 infants aboard only 6 survived. Among the dead were 123 Americans. That's a tragedy of immense proportions and the great misconception is that it lead America to enter World War I. It didn't. We wouldn't enter the war for another two years. The Germans redefined war with this act. Before there were gentlemanly rules of behavior for war that left civilians out of it even though the Lusitania was carrying war supplies for Britan. Hitler who fought in this war would come along twenty years later and do much worse. U-boats would become better made in the later years of World War I and do more damage and in World War II become a true menace.

The Lusitania was another ship that thought it was safe from the U-boats because of its speed and because they thought they'd have a British ship escort like other cruise ships had had in the past. It's kinda like the Titanic thinking it was unsinkable. No one thought the Germans would fire on them. But the Germans had declared in the newspapers that all Allies' ships were under attack. Heck, they were firing on neutral ships now too. This book takes you aboard the ship as it sails and then sinks as well as the people involved behind the scenes such as Room 40, President Wilson and those aboard the U-20. Larson is an amazing writer and gathers together pieces of documents written by those who were there that really makes you feel as though you are in their shoes. You can almost sympathize with the U-boat sailors and their hard and deadly life. The larger-than-life Churchill who saved Britain during World War II takes on a much different look in this book--a more realistic one. To say I loved this book would be an understatement. This is a drop everything and read this book now book. I recommend it in the highest possible way. ( )
  nicolewbrown | Sep 13, 2018 |
I must say I learned quite a lot throughout Dead Wake, which is the first of Eric Larson’s books I have read. I have read a lot about World War II but this is the first book I have read that deals with ‘The Great War’. I am going to be honest and say that, although I have heard of the Lusitania, I did not know of its historical significance and direct correlation with America’s involvement in the war. Larson does an amazing job of telling a true story and making the read feel more like a novel than a history book.

Eric Larson did his research on the passengers to the point that he describes them as if they were personal acquaintances. Readers get to know these passengers and are able to follow in their footsteps while aboard the famed and doomed Lusitania. One thing I will never forget is the description of the survivors aboard the rescue ships immediately following the sinking. It is a widely known fact that it was a very joyful and merry occasion, even for the survivors who had lost their entire families. I found this to be a fact worthy of contemplation due to the fact that it would seem obvious that these people would be devastated. I would imagine though that the survivors were so elated and surprised to be alive that all worry and depression was momentarily put on hold.

So the question remains: Did the British Admiralty purposefully allow the Lusitania to travel unguarded in an area that was widely known to contain German U-boats? The British were desperately trying to gain war assistance from the American’s and this direct aggression towards a merchant vessel leaving the U.S. might be the straw that broke the camels back. I imagine that if this were the case, the British would never own of the this fact. It still took the United States 2 years to join the war following the sinking of the Lusitania. ( )
  Scorched_Earth | Sep 11, 2018 |
(41) While I have in the past been somewhat obsessed with 'Titanic,' I was not as familiar with this event. And as Larson says, really all I knew was that Americans were on board and it sparked our entry in to WW1. But, well . . . we didn't enter the War until 2 years later. Anyway, this is a narrative-type non-fiction account of the torpedoing of this British passenger liner, that was indeed bringing munitions from neutral America, in addition to ~ 2000 passengers. Was the ship fair game? Is all really fair in love and War?

I have not read Larson before but I think I will read more of his books now. The writing was a nice bit of story-telling and characterization gleaned from primary sources as well as political, cultural, military history. There was as much about life aboard a German U-boat, and President Wilson's love life as there was about the crossing of the Lusitania itself. The account of the immediate aftermath of the torpedo was gripping as was haunting tales of the aftermath for the survivors, the families with the revelations of which of the passengers Larson introduced made it and which did not. Especially chilling were the descriptions of the morgue photos and the stories of bodies washing up on the Irish coast.

As always I am struck by the injustice of the fact that the people (men, to be more precise) who make War are never the actual people in the trenches as it were. They can think about the cost of War, indulge in patriotism and bloodlust because they know that they and theirs will always be protected by the duped who are in the military or who don't have the resources to avoid conscription.

Anyway, I digress. Could England have hatched a diabolical plot on the DL to sacrifice the Lusitania to force America's entry into the War? Surely not, I would like to think. . . This is recommended for those who like narrative non fiction: Laura Hillenbrand, Sebastian Junger, John Krakauer, even Shelby Foote, to name a few. ( )
  jhowell | Aug 13, 2018 |
I loved Larson's previous book, [b:The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America|21996|The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America|Erik Larson|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312066724s/21996.jpg|3486041], so I was excited to get a copy of this new work. I had no real interest in the subject matter (never even saw Titanic!), but such is Larson's gift that he can make anything fascinating!

Spoiler Alerts!

Extensive research can make for tedious reading, but this book reads like a thriller.
We meet some of the passengers aboard this doomed liner, and we follow them to the sinking of the ship. We learn who survives and who doesn't, and what happened after the sinking - the hearings, how the survivors fared, and much more. We learn how even with this blatant aggression against an American ship, President Wilson still took 2 years to join the war. His portrayal is not flattering at all! We learn about the Captain of the ship and how he attained his post, how the British Intelligence and Navy failed the Captain and the passengers, and how they tried to scapegoat him after the sinking.
We also get inside the head of the Admiral of the Nazi submarine, thanks to his detailed notes/diary. It was amazing to read how much time the Sub spent in British waters and how easily he operated. His morals leave much to be desired - but adding his perspective was crucial to understanding events and his role in the War. The British military and government do not come off very well either, many decisions made can be looked at in horror.
The most admirable aspect of this book is how Larsen personalizes the events. By getting to know many of the passengers we care about them and what happens to them. We read about heroes and cowards, stupid mistakes and acts of valor - and I learned about a historic event! All positives! I have never taken a cruise -(seasickness) and now probably never will, but if I did I would definitely learn about the lifeboats! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
History is a living art, packed with drama and emotion and animation, in the hands of Erik Larson. While reading, I felt all the excitement of the ocean cruisers, all their nagging awareness of the dangerous possibility, all their human tendency to believe that such a danger was beyond the scope of possibility, and all their disbelief when the unthinkable became real. I watched the maneuverings of the U-20 submarine as it stalked its victims all over the seas, and marveled at the mass of coincidences that were needed to make the sinking of the Lusitania a reality. Alter one small part of this story, the timing of the departure, the speed maintained, even the endurance of the fog, and the Lusitania sails into the Liverpool docks instead of into the history books.

Perhaps it takes a strong, callous heart to persevere in war, but there was a kind of cold-blooded heartlessness in so many of these people that it made me cringe. Mr. Churchill, for whom I have always had a great degree of respect, may well have set up the scenario that led to this disaster in order to help propel the United States into the war. Sometimes to do nothing is to do something major. Of course, he seems like a pussycat next to the German u-boat commander who takes such obvious joy in torpedoing merchant ships so that he can add to the “tonnage” of his kill count. Perhaps they should have kept the count in lives; It might have made for a better understanding of the job he was doing.

Larson follows both Turner, the captain of the Lusitania, and Schwieger, the admiral of the u-boat, along with a number of the passengers aboard the ship. He acquaints us with them on a very individual level, giving the horror the human face that it deserves. In any tragedy that costs such a death toll, it is the details of the lives that finally break your heart. It is the realization that these people had dreams and wishes, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, lovers; that they will be missed and mourned each individually, that forces you to see that they are no different than you.

I love history. No one can make up stories any better than the ones that have actually occurred and affected the lives of so many. And, in the end, that is what history is--not the story of lands, or the story of things, but the story of people, individuals, great and small, who have struggled and lived and died and left a moment of significance behind. The loss of the Lusitania was not the loss of a great ship, a mammoth of the sea, it was really the loss of 1000 lives, some never lived, and all cut short by the insanity of a conflict that erupted over imperialism and greed, despite being blamed upon the death of an archduke in Sarajevo.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
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If creating “an experience” is Larson’s primary goal, then “Dead Wake” largely succeeds. There are brisk cameos by Churchill and Woodrow Wilson, desperate flurries of wireless messages and telegrams, quick flashes to London and Berlin. These passages have a crackling, propulsive energy that most other books about the Lusitania — often written for disaster buffs or steampunk aficionados — sorely lack.
added by amarie | editThe New York Times, Hampton Sides (pay site) (Mar 5, 2015)
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The Captains are to remember that, whilst they are expected to use every diligence to secure a speedy voyage, they must run no risk which by any possibility might result in accident to their ships. They will ever bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property entrusted to their care is the ruling principle which should govern them in the navigation of their ships, and no supposed gain in expedition, or saving of time on the voyage, is to be purchased at the risk of accident. -"Rules to Be Observed in the Company's Service," The Cunard Steam-Ship Company Limited, March 1913
The first consideration is the safety of the U-boat. -Adm. Reinhard Scheer, Germany's High Sea Fleet in the World War, 1919
For Chris, Kristen, Lauren, and Erin
(and Molly and Ralphie, absent, but not forgotten)
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On the night of May 6, 1915, as his ship approached the coast of Ireland, Capt. William Thomas Turner left the bridge and made his way to the first-class lounge, where passengers were taking part in a concert and talent show, a customary feature of Cunard crossings.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307408868, Hardcover)

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author and master of narrative nonfiction comes the enthralling story of the sinking of the Lusitania, published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the disaster
On May 1, 1915, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone, and for months, its U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era's great transatlantic "Greyhounds" and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. He knew, moreover, that his ship--the fastest then in service--could outrun any threat.

Germany, however, was determined to change the rules of the game, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. Meanwhile, an ultra-secret British intelligence unit tracked Schwieger's U-boat, but told no one. As U-20 and the Lusitania made their way toward Liverpool, an array of forces both grand and achingly small--hubris, a chance fog, a closely guarded secret, and more--all converged to produce one of the great disasters of history.

It is a story that many of us think we know but don't, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. Full of glamour, mystery, and real-life suspense, Dead Wake brings to life a cast of evocative characters, from famed Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat to pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to President Wilson, a man lost to grief, dreading the widening war but also captivated by the prospect of new love. Gripping and important, Dead Wake captures the sheer drama and emotional power of a disaster that helped place America on the road to war.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:20 -0400)

The #1 New York Times best-selling author of In the Garden of Beasts presents a 100th-anniversary chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania that discusses the factors that led to the tragedy and the contributions of such figures as President Wilson, bookseller Charles Lauriat and architect Theodate Pope Riddle.… (more)

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